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NLS Press Release

Last Cassette Book Machine Produced for Library of Congress Talking-Book Program

For Immediate Release:
April 1, 2007
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or rfis@loc.gov

Last Cassette Book Machine Produced for Library of Congress Talking-Book Program

Milestone marks program’s gradual phase-out of cassette technology and foray into digital offerings for NLS patrons

WASHINGTON, DC—The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, recently produced its last cassette book machine (CBM). During a ceremony held on March 1, 2007, in Blue Earth, Minnesota, Telex Communications, Inc. presented NLS with the milestone C-1 player—the 1,248,113th manufactured by the company since 1983. This milestone marks the talking-book program’s gradual phase-out of cassette technology and foray into production and distribution of digital talking books and players. Despite the digital transition, NLS will continue to circulate and repair CBMs until the digital transition is complete.

“Analog audiocassette and cassette-book machine technology has been the backbone of the NLS system, but it is outdated and nearing the end of its useful life,” said NLS director Frank Kurt Cylke. “Our patrons have heightened expectations of service improvements, especially those who are tech savvy. Their expectations along with the impending obsolescence of key elements of analog technology warrant the conversion to a digital system.”

Since 1969, 1.5 million CBMs have been manufactured and distributed to more than 25 million NLS patrons. These machines were designed to play audiocassettes recorded at 15/16 inches per second on 4-track tapes, allowing up to six hours of playback time per cassette. Throughout the machine’s existence, NLS has continuously enhanced the machine’s functionality. However, recent advances in digital technology promise to further improve the patron experience, prompting NLS to transition to a digital system.

Cassette players will remain in circulation throughout the transition period until digital books and players are fully integrated. To ensure ongoing availability of CBMs through 2011, NLS has invested nearly $5.6 million in spare parts to repair CBMs as needed. NLS researched and analyzed the repairs made over the past several years to determine which parts would be needed to keep the CBMs functioning through 2011. The spare parts purchased—mostly rubber parts and playback heads—will be used for routine repairs needed to keep the CBMs in working order. In total, 66 different types of parts were purchased to repair up to 575,000 machines. These parts are expected to last as long as the current life cycle of the C-1 player, which is estimated at ten years.

More than 23 million copies of recorded and braille books and magazines were circulated to a readership of 799,718 in 2004. The International Union Catalog provides access to 423,500 titles (19 million copies). Audiobook readers borrow an average of 31 books and magazines a year. Braille readers average 20 books and magazines a year.

An overview of the NLS digital talking-book project may be found in Current Strategic Business Plan for the Implementation of Digital Systems at www.loc.gov/nls/businessplan2006.html. For enrollment information, visit www.loc.gov/nls or call 1-888-NLS-READ (1-888-657-7323).

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Posted on 2011-01-10